I know, I’m late to the party. The film came out almost a year ago. I got it from Redbox last night. But I have something to say about Christian Grey, even though so much has already been said.
Consent isn’t just about sexual relationships. Consent is a way of life. And this is something that Christian Grey does not understand.
A friend recommended I read the book Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend the year that I moved out. At the time, my family was not allowing me to become my own person. I read and skimmed most of it, and the basic idea is that healthy relationships require clearly defining to others what you are okay with and mutual respect of these limits is essential.
I’m guessing movie audiences wouldn’t have tolerated the book version of Christian. I haven’t read the books because I tried to skim the first one in the grocery store and it was actually that terrible. Based on my friend September Grace’s Got Questions review of Fifty Shades of Grey, book Christian sounds horrid. And Samantha Field wrote last year for The Mary Sue, “In some ways, the film is an improvement over the books in that it removes the rape scenes, but in a way, those improvements make it all so much worse because the obviousness of the abuse has disappeared. What’s replaced it is possibly even more dangerous, because it’s easier to argue that what we’re being presented isn’t abusive—it’s romantic.”
Movie Christian is easier to sympathize with. And that makes him scarier. And more realistic.
People who abuse other people are human after all, which makes their unacceptable actions harder to confront. We want to downplay and excuse. Rarely are abusers purely evil, because humans are not one-dimensional. I’ve written before that my parents aren’t villains. I think that makes memories hurt more because I can’t write them off as the bad guys in a subplot.
They’re my parents. I share their genetics. And I don’t want to repeat their mistakes.
And I see the human part of Christian, but I am not like him.
Christian sees himself as twisted. When Ana first meets him, she asks, “Why don’t you like to be touched?” and he says, “Because I’m fifty shades of fucked-up, Anastasia.” And Christian wants to initiate Anastasia into the world of kinky things. Which would be fine, except that he’s doing it wrong.
After their first coffee date, Christian becomes distant. He tells Ana, “I’m not the man for you. You should stay clear of me. I have to let you go.” The context doesn’t explain whether he’s being manipulative or honest. But even if he’s being honest, he uses Ana’s sympathy to his advantage.
I have felt that way. I’ve been convinced that I was a monster, undeserving of love. I’ve pushed people away because I’m afraid that I’m going to hurt them. But I would never, ever want to bring them into the darkness with me.
But Christian does. He doesn’t want to be alone, so he pulls Ana in with him. This is problematic.
I’ve met people who are dark and brooding. I’ve met men who are protective. They would have picked very drunk Ana up from the bar and shielded her from the guy friend trying to kiss her. They would have tucked her into a warm bed. They would have left “eat me” and “drink me” notes on the nightstand for the hangover treatment.
And they would also have respected her boundaries. They would not have stalked her. They would not have sold her car without her knowledge.
The problem with Christian is that he claims that he knows her own mind better than she does. My father also did this. Until I moved out, he ordered meals at restaurants for all of us. If we asked for something else, he would say that he really thought we would enjoy this other dish better and we should just try it to make him happy. I honestly believe he thought he knew our desires and what was best for us without actually consulting… us. This was how he showed that he cared.
Christian does seem to love Ana, but not in a healthy way.
It’s like they are speaking two different languages in the film. She doesn’t understand his kinky world and he wants so badly to share it with her that he is willing to twist her to fit that mold.
Many people in the BDSM community believe Fifty Shades of Grey misrepresents them for this reason. With their focus on consent, FSOG looks even more like rape.
Some of us homeschooled kids were exposed to entirely too much torture (see: Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, medical descriptions of the crucifixion) at a young age, and we find pain enticing. I’m a masochist. Some homeschool alumni have joined the BDSM community for this reason, and some have chosen to abstain and to deal with these desires through seeking spiritual healing.
Most of us realize that we have a weird relationship with pain, but we’d never force anyone else to be like us. Cynthia Jeub wrote in her letter to Anastasia Steele, “We’re wired with our pain and pleasure receptors very close together in our brains, and it’s possible to rewire you into a masochist. That’s what he did to you, and you didn’t know that from the beginning.”
That’s not something most kinky people would do.
Back in college, I went to a play with kinky themes called Venus in Fur for my theater class. I also went to the Theaterworks prologue, a Q&A session with a retired dominatrix, Mistress Djuna. She set clear boundaries between herself and her clients within a written contract, and also never had sexual intercourse with any of her clients. People sought her for this. She didn’t seek them. But Christian stalks Ana and coerces her into participating. And in Fifty Shades of Grey (book + film), Christian and Anastasia discuss the contact and she never actually signs it. These contracts are always supposed to be mutually agreed upon and thoroughly discussed. Informed consent is important, and Ana does not know what she is agreeing to.
This is why the BDSM community is upset, especially because the series is so popular and viewed as an introduction to the subculture. (see: The Troubling Message in Fifty Shades of Grey and Dear 50 Shades Fan, BDSM Doesn’t Need Or Want Your Defense)
Anastasia just wants a relationship. She tells Christian that she wants movie nights with him. But he requires kinky things to know him.
“So you’ll get your kicks by exerting your will over me.”
“It’s about gaining your trust and your respect, so you’ll let me exert my will over you. I will gain a great deal of pleasure, joy even, in your submission. The more you submit, the greater my joy — it’s a very simple equation.”
“Okay, and what do I get out of this?”
This is not normal or healthy. I know several people who are kinky. And they would never make participation in BDSM a requirement for a relationship. Actually, they would be fine with just being friends.
Fifty Shades of Grey has an uncomfortable gothic fairy-tale dynamic. Tortured and brooding antihero, naive female savior. (Yes, I’m aware that it’s Twilight fan fiction.) My friend Shelby doesn’t like the story of Beauty and the Beast. She sees it as Stockholm Syndrome, falling in love with your abuser and hoping that he’ll change, and this enables domestic violence. I’m sentimental about the children’s story, but this movie made me realize the charm is real. And deadly.
Christian’s problem is that he only respects consent in the area of sexuality, not in all areas of life. He doesn’t understand boundaries. What’s scary is that Christian is so subtle and even well-meaning. Sometimes he’s tender and it looks sincere.
But he won’t acknowledge his own history of child abuse. He justifies it.
I’m with my coworker Samantha Morley. The film and cast was excellent. The soundtrack was catchy. But the plot is a cliché that needs to die.